23 Fundraising Gala Theme Ideas to Inspire All Your NYC Charitable Events

December 20, 2023 Desiree Homer

New York City is home to countless charity events happening all over the city at any given time. If you’ve been tasked with planning one of these high-value fundraising galas for your event planning client, there’s no doubt the pressure is on to create a well-planned and successful event. Each nonprofit organization is looking to maximize donations, engage with donors, and raise awareness for their cause. And as the event planner, it's your job to design and curate a gala experience that is unique and memorable.

Event planning has many aspects, and picking a charity event theme should be at the top of the list. Just deciding on a theme can inform the rest of your planning efforts, allowing the design details to fall into place. Themes create cohesion to tie everything together and set the mood for the event. Usually, when people think of a “gala,” a formal event comes to mind. However, with a fundraising gala, it’s ok to bend the rules a bit and pick a theme based on the mission of the event client's organization.

Some galas are traditional and more formal, while others may prefer a more casual approach. Lean into choosing a resonating theme with your charity event that aligns with your client's goals but also creates immersive event experiences in new ways. The more attendees you can attract, the more potential donations your event client can secure. So today, we're helping you brainstorm to think outside the box with your upcoming gala themes. We have curated a list of inspirational design ideas that are perfect for your next NYC charitable event!

Classic Black-Tie Gala

1. Masquerade Ball

A masquerade-themed party is a classic for a reason. It’s extravagant, stunning, and over-the-top. This formal theme will bring out your guests’ creative side with their unique mask choices and formal attire. Choose striking colors for your decor for a grand and magnificent evening.

2. Moulin Rouge

A night in Paris filled with ballroom dancing and live entertainment will transport your guests to another world and time. The event design and decor options are endless. And don't forget to arrange for stunning stage performances and dance numbers. This dazzling and spectacular theme based on the world of cabaret is whimsical and romantic. 

3. Night at the Oscars

The theme of Hollywood glitz and glamor will have your guests walking the red carpet, wearing beautiful gowns, and feeling like absolute VIPs. Incorporate celebrity guest appearances or offer awards to random participants. Add some paparazzi and a life-size Oscar to really push the theme and show your guests a fantastic night. 

Color-Inspired Fundraiser Themes

4. Black and White Formal

It’s as simple as it sounds, but your guests will love it. These basic colors make it easier for your guests to find the perfect formal attire, and your decor will be clean and elegant. It's entirely ok to stick with the traditional event designs for some fundraising galas.

5. Color Me Happy

On the flip side of a black-and-white event is one bursting with color. Encourage your guests to dress in their brightest colors. Incorporate high-energy lighting and heart-pumping music. Bring in natural florals and craft cocktail menus with equally vibrant spirits. Use eye-catching and colorful decor to make for a cheerful and upbeat event.

6. Monochromatic Gala

This is a great way to emphasize a specific color that’s associated with the organization you’re planning for. By using one singular color palette, you can create a beautiful themed event that brings cohesion every step of the way.

Seasonal Themes

7. Spring Into Auction!

It is a perfect theme for a springtime fundraiser brunch with beautiful floral arrangements and colorful decor. Consider doing an auction for a fun play on words and celebrate spring with a “Spring in Auction” themed event. Think of all the floral arrangements and seasonal event designs you could bring to life with a spring-inspired charity event!

8. Summerfest

For a more casual fundraiser in the summer, an outdoor party can really draw a crowd. Your gala guests will love a fun BBQ, some outdoor games, a pool party, or a wine tasting, just to name a few. Put the fun in fundraising, especially if your client's event is slated to take place over the summer months!

9. Fall Harvest

Fall Harvest is a great theme to consider for a family affair. Most formal fundraisers are adults-only, but if your client's organization is looking for a more family-friendly event, a fall harvest is a great way to get everyone involved. Pumpkin carving, apple picking, and bonfires are all fun for the whole family. 

10. Winter Wonderland

Embrace the whimsical portrayal of a snow-capped wonderland for a winter-themed gala event. The glistening whites and blues will transform your guests into a magical and elegant space. Think icicles, snowflakes, and stunning ice sculptures. It’s the perfect event theme for a winter fundraiser.

Eras Nights

11. Roaring 20s

This iconic era never goes out of style. Transform your space into a fabulous speakeasy that has elegance and mystique, along with flappers and gangsters of yesteryear. Encourage your guests to embrace the theme with their attire, be sure to serve lots of champagne, and maybe roll a silent movie as part of your aesthetics. 

12. Iconic 80s Party

Bring on the neon colors, fishnets, big hair, and scrunched socks for a fun and vibrant 80s-themed party! Get creative with your event designs, selecting your signature cocktail menu and tying in iconic 80s movies and era staples. Hire a DJ to play some of the biggest hits from the time and plan for an energetic and fun event. 

13. Disco Night

It will be a night full of fun for this 70s-themed disco party. Bring all your best Saturday Night Fever vibes with strobe lighting and disco ball dance floors. Encourage your guests to wear their glitter and bell bottoms for a night spent showcasing their best John Travolta moves.

Bring The Fun!

14. Casino Night

Guests will love hitting the jackpot with a casino night-themed gala fundraiser. Put together themed activities such as blackjack, roulette, and more. At this event, everyone will be leaving a winner, and the donations will flow like VIP champagne.

15. Big Top Carnival

Break out the cotton candy machine, popcorn, and peanuts for this carnival-themed gala. Guests can don in their finest fairgoer attire and take in the sights of a classic carnival. Bring in the clowns and Cirque du Soleil performers. This fundraiser theme will have your guests feeling nostalgic, fully immersed in the fun of the big top. 

16. High-Energy Trivia Night

Consider choosing a trivia category that appeals to or aligns with your charity benefactor. Sports, pop culture, music, and history trivia events are always popular. Tables work together at this night of trivia with some friendly competition for a good cause. Offer prizes, and design your venue in line with your chosen trivia category. And raise even more money for your event client's charity by requiring each table to sponsor a silent auction item. 

17. Fun with Superheros

Save the day with a fun superhero theme at your next fundraising gala. Have your guests dress as their favorite superheroes (or villains) and enjoy the city skyline for this fun event. Roll some popular movie footage, create photo booth opportunities with capes and death-defying illusions of heroism. See who can be the biggest superhero of the event by honoring your biggest donor.

Destination Themes

18. Safari Adventures

Turn your fundraising event into an exciting safari adventure. Guests can wear jungle-inspired costumes and enjoy all the associated themed decor and activities. Consider creating props and video booth activations where guests can take pictures with safari creatures. Or bring in a fog machine to complement the dense forest decor, giving the immersive impression of a misty jungle. Adventure awaits for this exciting themed party.

19. Hawaiian Luau

Whisk your guests away for a tropical Hawaiian Luau adventure. Gala attendees can enjoy Hawaiian-themed food and drinks, all while having ukulele music and hula lessons. There will be lots of grass skirts and leis at this dreamy getaway and gala event. 

20. Under The Sea

Everything’s better under the sea! Invite your gala guests to arrive dressed as exotic mermaids, beloved sea creatures, cool surfers, or anything else ocean-related. Go over the top with your underwater decor and wow your guests with this fun and unique theme.

Pop Culture Themed Fundraisers

21. Rock N Roll Night

A classic rock and roll-themed event will instantly be a crowd favorite. Encourage attendees to dress in their favorite rock star attire or as their favorite rock icons. Music is key, too. So bring in the best live bands or DJs so event guests can enjoy all the best rock hits over the decades. Pick decor from a specific decade, like the 50s, or span the evolution of rock and roll. It will be an extraordinary night with fantastic fundraising gala energy.

22. Alice In Wonderland

Up is down when guests adventure down the rabbit hole at this whimsical gala event. Incorporate mind-bending activities and encourage guests to dress as characters from Alice in Wonderland. With this iconic theme, your guests will have a magical night.

23. James Bond Night

Creating a moody vibe for this themed gala will create an intriguing event that will have your guests feeling like they’re immersed in the world of the legendary 007 super agent. Make it a black-tie affair, and your guests will be dressing like international spies and Bond girls. 

The main goal of any fundraising gala is to attract participating guests, incentivize them to donate to your event's cause, and raise awareness for your client's charity. It all starts with curating an exciting and monumental event theme. Whether you’re planning something formal and extravagant or casual and intimate, choosing a theme will ensure your client's fundraising gala is an overwhelming success!

Find all the event planning inspiration you need by attending The Event Planner Expo 2024! It's where the TOP industry professionals gather to share ideas, network, and grow their businesses. Discover new ways to elevate your fundraising gala-planning efforts by getting in the room with thousands of VIP-level planners and professionals. Check out ticket options and secure your exhibitor space today!

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